earthen vessels, East Africa, and the gospel
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Developing Swahili Muscles

When we look at the progress in our language learning over the past two years we are very encouraged by the ground that has been covered. At every new stage of the process, however, there is a greater awareness of how much hasn’t yet been learned. In this stage I have been reminded of how much ground has yet to be covered in clearing up my pronunciation.

Swahili uses a lot of vowels. Especially for Americans learning Swahili, the vowels at the end of the word tend to be a significant challenge. I recently asked Pastor Samson if we could have some of his cow’s manure for our compost bin. The Swahili word for bucket is ndoo (pronounced n-doh) while the word for marriage is ndoa (n-doh-a)—only one vowel different. But instead of using the former, I accidentally asked him for a “marriage of manure.” Thankfully, he understood what I meant rather than what I said.

One project that I’ve taken on in order to improve pronunciation involves listening to more Swahili Bible recordings. In another, I’ve started to memorize the book of 1 Peter in Swahili. I’ve found it helpful to use a method that involves repeating the verse out loud 10 times with the Bible open and 10 times with the passage covered. The soreness of my jaw after each day’s exercise is proof that there is still ground to cover! For now, we’re pressing on; thanks for praying.

October 24, 2014   2 Comments

Launguage Progress Present and Future

In the most recent update video we thanked you for your prayers for our progress in language learning. We know that some of the credit for our progress is due to all of you who have labored with us in prayer. So, thanks again…and congrats! [Read more →]

May 16, 2014   No Comments

Lessons from Village Visits

I spent Wednesday through Friday of this past week in the village of Nyakaliro visiting Pastor Elias and his family. I took the nearly 5-hour bus ride there and stayed in Elias’ guest room. This is the second trip I’ve made like this in the last 3 months for the purpose of learning Swahili. Being in Nyakaliro provides me the advantage of nearly an entire’s day worth of good visitation opportunities. Since there are practically no English speakers for hours in any direction, I am forced to use Swahili for the entire trip.

Of course, the expedition provides opportunity for learning many other lessons not strictly about language learning but certainly significant for preparing for ministry in this context. Here are a few from my notes:

  1. Traveling by bus is an inexpensive means of travel—though costly in time and energy. Always ask if there is a seat available on the bus just for you. Otherwise, you may end up standing on the bus.
  2. Pastor Elias has more pastoral and pulpit experience than I do. Moreover, he is a man of evident godly wisdom. I truly have much to learn from him. Staying with him reminds me that our partnership with local pastors is a two-way street.
  3. There are economic and health related hardships that people in the villages face that I have difficulty comprehending. I am so accustomed to being insulated from such hardship that I struggle to walk just a mile in their shoes.
  4. Nyakaliro is sufficiently cut off from the news of world around them. Some get updated through their phones or radio; a few even have TV in the village. On the next trip I could help my friends by bringing a recent newspaper.
  5. Remember to shut the door to my room when I’m away. Otherwise, a chicken may come in and lay an egg on my pillow (again).

July 14, 2013   3 Comments

First Preaching in Swahili

Two weeks of Bible Institute concluded this past Friday morning. The students and the teacher all approve of the work. As we are observing, however, the greater difficulty in the task of disseminating biblical training is not teaching the Institute students, but inducing the students to pass along teaching to others. 2 Timothy 2:2 and related passages have been finding their way into our team discussions and prayers recently.

We will be eating this elephant one bite at a time. For now, I am basically an Institute student myself, sitting in class to learn how to express biblical ideas in Swahili. Even so, I passed a significant milestone this last week. I was given the opportunity to preach a couple short devotionals to the students in Swahili. The first was on Ephesians 6:10–17 and the armor of God. The main thought was that we need to be prayerfully preparing ourselves daily with the truth of the Gospel so that we may be ready to fight against the lies of our enemy. The second devotional was from 1 John 1:1–4 and the joy of sharing with others the news of who God is and what he has accomplished. I briefly encouraged the men that the work of learning about God is not finished until it is shared with others.

The devotionals were manuscripted and then edited by others. From my perspective, the delivery was still rough and full of mistakes. But by God’s grace, the points were made and received. After confirming that the men understood me, they were asked to help me correct my Swahili. I am looking forward to teaching these men some day; but for now, I am grateful to be their student!

June 17, 2013   4 Comments

Language School in Iringa

We are finding language school to be very helpful for us. Up until our enrollment here our approach to language learning has focused on listening and mimicking Swahili speakers with some grammar work on the side. Learning in a classroom environment focuses on the grammar with a little practice to supplement. The advantage here is that we are now having explained to us all sorts of things we have been hearing everywhere but couldn’t discern the pattern.

Today's Lesson: Mahali Noun Class

Hearing things explained from a fresh perspective helps anyone get a better handle on the concepts. Meals, clean-up, and childcare are provided right at the camp we are staying. This helps Laura tremendously. As for me, I am excited that I have started reading more Bible related material. This means that I’m that much closer to being reading to converse about Scripture—quite a long way from learning how to order some bread!

May 23, 2013   No Comments

Laura’s Kiswahili Studies

My language work has been slower in progression compared to Matt’s. However, I am learning Kiswahili (the Swahili word for their language). Twice a week my friend Jeni helps me learn more of the language by doing exercises with me at my house. This seems to work well, since I have Ian, and she has Yeremia, who is just 4 weeks younger than our little guy. They are already friends! The boys sleep or play while we discuss Kiswhahili together. Jeni has been a great help, and a good friend.

Laura studying Swahili with Jeni

Laura studying Swahili with Jeni

Lately, I have started more work in a Kiswahili grammar book; Jana Eads has volunteered to watch Ian for about a hour two times a week so that I can have some focused time doing book work. Also, Peter, the man who helps in our house, is very patient in teaching me more Kiswahili. I only speak to him using the language, so that is challenging and helpful at the same time! I have the opportunity to speak Kiswahili every day when I greet the gardeners and others I may meet. And, of  course, church is a huge example of a language learning opportunity every week. The entire service and the fellowship after the worship time is all in Kiswahili. I am thankful for the grace God is giving me to slowly learn this language.

January 23, 2013   No Comments

Language Learning Mishap #1,325

We like to purchase bread to take away from a restaurant in town. Recently I dropped in to pick up four loaves. Now, in Swahili the difference between four loaves of bread and four-hundred loaves of bread is only one letter (mikate minne vs. mikate mia nne). I knew I must of said something wrong. The waitress behind the counter said that they didn’t have enough, but I could see about a dozen loaves just behind her on the shelf. “You have them. I see them…,” and so on I went for a couple minutes before realizing that I had asked for four-hundred loaves of bread. We all had a good laugh.

December 9, 2012   4 Comments

Public Transportation around Mwanza

One of the issues that has required an adjustment to my expectations is the delay of a driver’s license. My first attempt at a license ended when I was told, “You get residence permit and wait 6 months, then come back. Goodbye.” As for the residence permit, that is another kettle of fish. The current wait for new residence permits is at least three months, but three months seems to be a conservative estimate. In the meantime, we are working on an end-around that may make another way to get a driver’s license.

It’s a good idea for us to become comfortable with public transportation even if I am able to get a vehicle in the near future. So I made my first solo trip into town this past Thursday. Navigating public transportation in Africa is just one of those things you can’t sufficiently prepare for. You just dive in and soak up the experience. From our home in the village, it takes us less than 40 minutes to get into town in the Eads’s Land Cruiser. The same trip took me about an hour via public transport for less than $1.50. Not bad.

The first 6 kilometers is off the pavement where most vehicles don’t normally travel. This is where you flag down a piki piki (motorcycle). If you can just get over the fact that there is not much keeping you from being thrown off by the bumps or nailing a cow in the middle of the road, this leg of the trip is quite fun.

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Once you reach the pavement there are options aplenty. The most common mode of public transportation is the dala dala. (They say that the word comes from English dollar dollar–charming, isn’t it?) In Mwanza our dala dalas are mini busses which seat 10, although you will never find a dala dala operating with only 10 people. On the way into town I shared the ride with 18; on the way back the count peaked at 21.

Inside the Dala Dala

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Spending a little time on public transportation provides a multitude of culture learning opportunities. For me, being able get around is an essential part of making Mwanza feel like home. After arriving in town, I found a spot to do some reading, ran some errands, then made the return trip 4 hours later.

December 2, 2012   No Comments

Language Learning by Immersion

One of the most regularly asked question we received over the past year was “How well do you know Swahili?” Most are not expecting to hear that we haven’t put much effort into learning the language. We have intentionally waited to begin the process until we can be learn from native Swahili speakers. Most missionaries now say the most effective way to learn a language is to be forced to use it in real life settings. Books and lectures are merely supplements. After all, children, the best language learners in the world, learn by listening, mimicking, and readjusting. In order to hold a conversation with our neighbors in a way that doesn’t make them cringe, we’ll need to go beyond the grammars and stumble through situations where we can’t fall back on English. This is learning by immersion, aka barefooting.

The two weeks we spent in Toronto last month were the first big step in our language learning process. In that course we were introduced to the language learning techniques that missionaries and linguists have been fine tuning for the past 40 years or so. In practice this involves exercises that are not too different from Pictionary, charades, and Simon says. If we know what the Swahili speaker is talking about, we can listen and repeat after them. The goal is to skip translating back into English and instead associate the Swahili word with the object, idea, or action we are considering in the exercises.

At any rate, we still know very little Swahili. We are, however, learning one mistake at a time. The instructor made it clear that success in language learning will depend on our willingness to push through our own mistakes and build meaningful relationships with our new Tanzanian friends. Those relationships are the incentives that a grammar book can never provide. You can pray with us that God will give us strength to persevere through the language learning process and build relationships with Tanzanians.

September 27, 2012   3 Comments